Somewhere along the line I gleaned the notion that Chinese parents prize sons over daughters (which may or may not have been true in this case), and I chose to believe this as the reason I was liked. As an impressionable child, it seemed entirely likely that Chinese people simply hated girls, but I didn’t care. As long as I was being fed delicious food, I took no interest in complicated socio-economic issues. I’ve always been easily placated by food. I would’ve invited Stalin into my own home if he offered me a pot of mashed potatoes. Garlic mashed potatoes and I would’ve converted to Communism on the spot.
Whatever the case, they loved me, and I quickly learned I could get away with almost anything. For instance, Martin’s mother was unfamiliar with the American rating system for movies, so I could convince her to rent absolutely anything for Martin and me. One night I nonchalantly handed her a VHS of Goodfellas and she rented it for us without question.
I reveled in the violence and foul language. Martin did not.
It wasn’t all roses and pork buns, though. Martin’s parents had a tendency to be overly worrisome, and I sometimes found it stifling. One weekend they invited me to go camping with them. I was thrilled, but my excitement didn’t last long. Barely an hour into the car ride up to the mountains I started feeling peckish, and asked Martin’s mom if there was anything to eat. She told me there were snacks and drinks in a cooler by my feet. I opened it to find a collection of lukewarm bottled waters and a large bag of seaweed snacks.
I was not amused.
A sweeter child would have graciously accepted the room temperature water and bag of fish food, but if you’re keeping tabs on me so far, at age 8 I was clearly shaping up to be a manipulative racist. I scoffed at the offering and chose to pout for the rest of the car ride.
Once we arrived at the campground I perked up and quickly forgot about the grave personal insult I’d incurred earlier. Lunch and dinner were decidedly more appetizing, and as the sun began to set that evening, my mind wandered to thoughts of s’mores and ghost stories told by campfire light. Instead, around 7:30, Martin’s father put out the campfire and started packing up the supplies. Alarmed, I asked what he was doing.
“We go home,” he said.
I literally didn’t believe him. I asked, “Aren’t we staying overnight?”
“No,” he replied, “Too dangerous to sleep in woods.” I was flabbergasted. I looked to Martin for support but he seemed unphased. This was apparently normal camping behavior to them.
For a second time that day, I was thoroughly unamused.
Nevertheless, the campsite was cleared, and we were all home in time for a 10 o’ clock bedtime.
I grew up in Montana, which aside from a numerous Native population, is very white. Martin and his family were the only Asian people I knew for years, and I made most of my assessments about Chinese culture based on their actions. It wasn’t until middle school, when a Chinese girl burped in my face during gym class, that I came to realize that not all Asians are meek and polite and worrisome.
Come to think of it, that girl did a lot of shitty things to me during gym class, the worst being purposefully stepping on my button-down running pants, causing me to literally run out of my clothes.
(Looking back, both of those things are, in fact, hilarious, but because it happened to me, it was devastating.)
Martin’s family was different, though. His parents were so frequently clueless, and Martin was so friendly and agreeable. I found myself taking advantage of them all too often, especially Martin, and usually without being cognizant of it. I finally realized it was a problem one summer while we were swimming at a public lake. My mom had taken Martin and me out to the lake and we spent the morning swinging into the water from a rope swing tied to a branch. Around lunchtime a couple of teenage girls approached us and took control of the rope swing, refusing to share. One of them would swing out and the other would immediately grab the rope as it swung back. Then she’d wait until her friend was out of the water and back at her side, positioned to grab the rope once more as it arched back. They alternated in this manner for several minutes, refusing to share, despite my complaints that they were being unfair. They were bullies, plain and simple, and it infuriated me. After half an hour of this nonsense I could barely contain my rage, and finally I exploded. I mustered up the worst insult I could imagine and screamed it at them as loudly as I could.
I was immediately shocked at the words that had escaped my mouth.
The girls gaped at me, clearly stunned at my outburst, and after a tense moment of silence they sulked away. I figured I’d won the stand-off, and Martin and I resumed swinging into the water.
It wasn’t long before the girls returned, and they weren’t alone. My mother was with them, looking furious. The girls had told on me. My mom asked me if what they’d told her was true, and without missing a beat I declared, “no, of course not. They’re lying.”
I figured it would be my word against theirs, and I expected Martin to corroborate my claim. He always did what I said, so why would this be any different? My mother turned to him and asked, “Martin, who’s telling the truth here?” Martin looked at his feet.
“They are,” he said quietly. I was irate. My mom made me apologize to the girls and told me it was time to leave. For a moment I attempted to stand my ground, but she dragged me away.
Behind us, the girls snickered at the turn of events.
On the car ride home my mom lectured me about lying, and about how calling girls bitches is sexist and unacceptable, but I heard not a single word of it. I was fuming in the passenger seat. I was angry at my mom for punishing me, and angry at my friend for what I felt was a personal betrayal on his part. Mostly, I was angry that the bullies had won.
Not once did I consider that this fiasco was at all my fault. I didn’t stop to consider that putting my best friend on the spot and expecting him to lie for me was bully behavior.
I was still angry the next day when my mother came into my room to talk to me. She asked me why I thought Martin had told the truth, even though it would get me in trouble. My first thought was, “because he’s a goody-two-shoes Chinese nerd,” but I didn’t say that. All I said was, “I don’t know.”
But I did know. Martin had told the truth because he was the only one involved in the dispute who had any sense of honor. I, on the other hand, was a liar, sort of racist, a little bit sexist, and worst of all, I hadn’t been treating my best friend like a friend.
A few days later the incident had blown over, and we were back to doing whatever it is 8-year-olds do (Legos? Arson? I don’t remember). But I made a conscious decision to not be a shitty friend after that.
I also made a conscious decision to not involve Martin in any bank heists in the future, because he clearly couldn’t keep quiet. Snitches get stitches, after all. And friends don’t give friends stitches.
Friends don’t give friends stitches.